From a technical standpoint, an event is just a type of project. It is a unique, temporary undertaking with a beginning and an end, aimed at achieving certain goals. And while there are more than a few idiosyncrasies that make events unique, there is still a lot that event organizers can learn from project managers.
In this article, we will look at the 5 major steps event organizers can borrow from project managers in order to increase their chances of throwing a truly memorable event.
1. Identify event parameters
In order for any project to succeed, it is essential to identify all the parameters and the same goes for events. This is something all good project managers know how to do very well and event organizers should definitely take notes on this.
The main parameters for any project, events included, entail the following:
- Goals — what is it that your event is trying to achieve? This can be something as specific and measurable as a certain number of attendees or selling a certain number of products, but it can also be something as esoteric as raising awareness of a certain cause. It is essential to set smart goals and you can learn a lot about this from project managers.
- Constraints — what are the limitations of the project? For events, these may include the budget, the choice of the venue, the nature of the event itself (you might make certain stylistic decisions based on the tone of the event). Different deadlines will also fall into this category; from the ultimate one — the date of the event to smaller deadlines that you will mostly set for yourself.
- Stakeholders — who are involved? Project stakeholders include anyone who is in any way involved with it — from your event team and organization (or client organization if you are an event agency) to sponsors, attendees, exhibitors, suppliers and anyone else who will influence or be influenced by the event.
- Roadmap — how will you go about organizing the event? In this initial phase, it is probably not the best idea to try to identify every single minor task that will go into organizing the event. That being said, you will want to have a high-level plan that you will then break down as you get new information and start working with your team and other stakeholders.
2. Choose the right approach
Over the years, the project management industry and the innumerable experts that have left their stamp on it have developed a wide variety of approaches that you can take when managing a project. You can find a great overview of the most important approaches here.
When we are talking about organizing an event, the phased approach is usually the most common and the most suitable. This approach is also commonly known as the waterfall approach where one phase needs to be finished before another can start.
For example, it would be quite impossible to start decorating a venue before you had actually chosen and booked it.
However, we must not ignore an approach that has become something of a fad nowadays — the Agile approach. While some aspects of it may not be best suited for organizing an event, there are definitely a number of reasons why you might consider agile project management as an approach. You can at least give it a go.
3. Communicate and empower
Good project managers understand the importance of good communication, whether we are talking about just the most immediate team or all the various stakeholders that can get involved in one way or another.
No project can be successful if the communication within the team comes down to the project manager simply passing down orders. Team members have to know they can voice their opinions and ideas and that they will be heard. This will empower the team, inspire initiative, ensure transparency and prevent mistakes that happen due to simple miscommunication.
In event organizing, there is a lot of communication with external stakeholders such as clients, sponsors, exhibitors, suppliers, media, and even attendees themselves. This is why, as an event organizer, you will want to learn about keeping the lines of communication open and structured, which is another thing you can learn from project managers.
4. Prepare for the unforeseeable
There’s a saying by a 19th-century Prussian general — “No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy.” While we are not exactly dealing with enemies when organizing an event, the sentiment still stands. No matter how well you plan, unforeseeable things will happen.
The client will inform you that they are now expecting 500 attendees and not 200; the venue manager will tell you that three rooms will need to be closed down to deal with mold; the supplier will tell you that their shipment of mushrooms was decimated by a warehouse cat or something silly like that.
Stuff like this will happen.
Project managers are good at this. They know how to do a risk assessment and manage dependencies in order to prevent or mitigate any problems that are caused by unforeseen events or changes to the project. This is part of their training and it should also become part of your skillset.
5. Debrief and analyze
You will learn from every event you organize. It is simply the way the human mind works. However, you will learn even more if you make this a structured process.
Once the event is done, you will sit down with your team for a debriefing and be completely transparent about everything that was done, the goals that were met, the obstacles that arose and the ways in which you as a team handled them.
There are two Scrum events that you can consult for a bit of guidance here, Scrum being the leading Agile framework for project management. These are the Sprint Review and the Sprint Retrospective. Without getting into details, these two events serve as an opportunity to inspect the way the work was done and the end result of that work. There is no shortage of ways to do them and you would do well to research them some more.
This way, you will make sure that you have thoroughly analyzed everything about how your event went and discover actionable insights into how you can improve in the future.
When all is said and done, isn’t that what it is all about?